If you look at the lifestyles of highly successful people, you’ll realize that they’re not that way by accident, or by luck. They’ve learnt to make all those successful, proactive and useful behaviors a habit.
Whether it’s waking up early to have more hours in the day, getting a work out in each day, taking the time to focus on self improvement, reading more, drinking less… the list can go on, but the one thing all these healthy habits have in common, is that it takes time for them to become a daily aspect in your life.
If you’re thinking of making a small change to take on a healthy habit, or you’re thinking of something a little more life changing, hard work, effort and dedication are the things you need to achieve your goal.
But just how long does it take to form a new habit - or stop a bad one?
A quick internet search, will tell you it takes 21 days to form a habit. This is a popular myth that still rings in people’s brains today. This can seem a little ludicrous if your habit is something big or life changing. Can you really pick something up in less than a month?
The real figure can be a lot longer than that. In 2009, a researcher at UCL, Phillippa Lally, published a study about how long it takes to make a new habit. She found it took on average 66 days to form a habit, three times as long as the mythical 21 days! She also found that habits that took harder work took longer to pick up, with some people taking 254 days to form a habit until it became second nature.
But what makes a repeated behavior turn into a habit?
Habits are behaviors that you perform on autopilot, purely because you have performed them frequently in the past. A repetition of a behavior eventually creates a mental association between the cue and the action. So when the cue is stimulated, the action is performed without thought. When you can do this, you’ve picked up a habit!
In Phillipa’s study, although the average length of time for actions to be performed without thought was 66 days, some people picked it up in as little as 18. And some as long as 254 days!
The key from the study was that to adopt a new behavior and perform the actions without thought - making it a habit - is to stick with it. This is where the myth of 21 days can be disheartening, if at day 21 we’re still dragging ourselves out of bed for a morning run, craving that cup of coffee, or not reading a book every day - or whatever the habit you want to pick up is!
Creating a habit isn’t designed to be easy - especially when our brains are wired to do what comes naturally. It’s hard to let yourself slip in the consistency of creating a new habit.
To help, here are 8 tips to form new habits, and help you stay on track.
1. Commit to small timeframes
If you tell yourself your goal to start a habit is never ending, it can be a little daunting. Try tackling it in smaller time frames. Tell yourself, if you can make it through a month, you’ll do another month, then another, then another - before you know it your habit will be automatic.
2. Make it a daily thing
Consistency is key! Make sure you do your habit every day for it to stick - it will be harder to pick something up if you’re only doing it every week, or every few days. These activities will be harder to stick to as a habit, so trying it everyday, at least for the first month, is the way to go.
3. Make it simple
Don’t try and pick up something life changing in one day. It’s easy to set your sights high and take on more than you can chew. Build yourself up to your larger goal, and break your habit down into manageable chunks based on what is realistic for you.
4. Keep reminding yourself
Check in with yourself often so you don’t forget your commitments. Put reminders on your phone, tell your friends to give you a nudge. Whatever you need to keep on track. If you miss a day or so it could impact you picking up a new habit. Consistency is the key!
5. Do it with a friend
Keeping a habit is easier when you have someone else along for the ride. It gives you a little more accountability, and also you can motivate each other along the way.
6. Trigger yourself
Form a trigger by giving yourself a ritual to use right before doing your habit. Whether this is waking up to a certain alarm, or snapping your fingers if you feel like picking up a cigarette, your trigger will help to reinforce your habit in your brain.
7. Accept your imperfections
Picking up a new habit is hard. You’re not going to get it straight away, or be successful off the bat. As long as you keep trying, you’re on the right track. A great tip is to forgive yourself for any hiccups, and expect them when you set off.
8. Remove temptation
Change your environment so you won’t be tempted to go back to your old habits or get distracted in your pursuit to pick up new ones. This can mean throwing out unhealthy foods if you want to eat healthy, filling your house with books if you'd like to read more, or cancelling streaming services so you can focus on something that isn’t a screen. Doing this at the start will help you avoid giving into temptation later, when your willpower may waver.
By Amy Cavill
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